A Day at the Beach

Operation Neptune. D-Day. Normandy, France.  Jun 6, 1944. Seventy years ago today.

Children of my generation looked at our otherwise ordinary fathers in awe, and pondered how they fought in World War II.  We thought about what we would do if we were called upon by our country to do the same.  Would we rush off a landing craft onto Omaha Beach knowing that there was a good chance we would die?

We believed we would, just as our fathers did.  There were some things worth dying for.

For the generations who followed, would you?

Omaha_Beach_American_Casualty

There were no iPads, Starbucks or wifi.  No one complained about the emotional trauma of hurt feelings or mean words.  The G.I.s who survived used language and told jokes that most would find offensive today. The enemy was Krauts, and on the other side of the world, Nips.  But they ran onto that beach anyway, 70 years ago today.

23 thoughts on “A Day at the Beach

  1. Richard G. Kopf

    SHG,

    As I stared at the dead soldier with his his face buried in the sand, it struck me that you failed provide a trigger warning both for the photos and the words “Krauts” and Nips.” Thank you.

    All the best.

    RGK

    1. SHG Post author

      I thought about a trigger warning for iPads, Starbucks and wifi. It never occurred to me to give a trigger warning for anything else.

  2. UltravioletAdmin

    Considering the friend’s I’ve lost to Afghanistan or Iraq, Yes.

    I had the honor of attending law school with others of my cohort that spent 4 years in a desert. My brother in law did explosive ordnance disposal and still wakes up with nightmares.

  3. AH

    I have had this discussion very recently, that there seem to be so few people left of a character that would be willing to take a stand and deal with the consequences. I have reflected on what my own grandfather did, at 21!, and the honest answer is that I don’t know. I like to believe that I would take a stand, but I am realistic enough to realize that you can never know for sure until you’re truly tested.

    We have become slaves to our own convenience. I still remember a quote from a book that I read as a child, which said “when there is only the self to live for, dying comes hard”. Is that the difference between then and now?

    (As an aside, as a person with Japanese ancestry, I understood the context of your terminology and required no trigger warning.)

    1. Lurker

      We must remember one thing: the men at Normandy were mostly draftees. You do not need to be a hero to do your duty in that situation. It is simply what you do. The fighting is based mostly on social pressure. You try to avoid both being a weakling and a gung-ho crazy, while simultaneously trying to live your day-to-day life. So, rest assured, 2/3rds of us would find that courage, if it were necessary. We like to conform to the culture of our peers. If it involves fighting at insane odds, then we do that, too.

      This idea is also supported by sociological study. If you want to read a classic study about the small-group dynamics of an infantry company, I warmly recommend Knut Pipping’s work “Infantry Company as a Society”, [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

      My own experience, although only from peace-time military, suggests that the basic group dynamics still remain, even in the era of smart phones. I am pretty sure that the guys whom I’ve lead in numerous exercises would not let me down in a real case, either.

      (I ask SHG’s pardon for the link. The study is really worth one’s while, as there are really few small-group dynamics studies from WWII. The author of the work, a sociologist by profession, served in a company he describes for three years while simultaneously carrying out the research by his own initiative. The company also happened to take part in some of the fiercest battles in the Finnish WWII, performing well, so this is interesting also from that point of view.

      [Ed. Note: No.]

      1. SHG Post author

        So, rest assured, 2/3rds of us would find that courage, if it were necessary.

        I find your comment unconvincing. And it’s highly unlikely anyone will ever “rest assured” because you say so.

      2. jahigginbotham

        I hope we don’t find out if the current generation has the same qualities as the WWII. But there are plenty of other wars in which soldiers and civilians have made incredible sacrifices. The WWII generation gets more honor for just being ordinary folks and not a generational exceptionalism.
        At the same time there is extensive literature including the Earl of Sandwich and Horace (Odes and Epodes) lamenting the worthlessness of the upcoming generation.

    2. SHG Post author

      You, of all people, would have damn good cause to take issue with the use of “Nips,” but in the same vein, you of all people would appreciate both the reality of the age as well as the relative insignificance of a derogatory name when there were far, far worse things America did to Americans of Japanese descent.

      For anyone wondering, google Gordon Hirabayashi.

      1. AH

        I am reluctant to completely agree that language is insignificant. Yes, there were way worse things done, but labeling people as “other” is part of what assisted in fostering the collective complacency that allowed the vast majority of people to ignore or go along with what was happening. And, as I believe was your point, part of what enabled men to fight. I think language is important, but there is no reason to ignore or avoid the historical fact of the language that was used (when my mother was born, while my grandpa was in prison, a photo ran on the front page of the newspaper with her and my grandmother–who was caucasion–with the headline “Sired by a Jap”.)

        Had I believed you were using those terms as a genuine expression of your beliefs about the people to whom they refer and all the ugliness they entail, I would have been offended even though there are much more significant things to get offended about. Although I still wouldn’t have required a trigger warning.

  4. Lurker

    The point is that it would not be “asked to”. It would be told to. If the law requires you to get drafted, that’s what most of us do. Very few want to blatantly dodge it. Then, while in the ranks, you train as you are told, trying to slack off when possible but not too much.

    The miracle of conscription is that the service is the norm. Anyone can be an adequate soldier, given a good training and organization. In such environment, not answering the country’s call is possible only for habitual criminals and truly conscientious dissenters. The rest of us go with the flow.

    1. SHG Post author

      In WW II, approximately 6.4 million Americans enlisted. Of the remaining 9.6 million who were drafted, most went willingly. And the rest of the nation willingly sacrificed, with food rations and material shortages, as well, for what Americans believed to be a worthy cause.

      The point is that Americans willingly sacrificed for a cause. There was conscription in Vietnam and it failed miserably. So no, it was not just conscription.

  5. John Barleycorn

    Rather simplistic of you to roll out of bed today and start projecting valor on the dead of Normandy in the “good war” while throwing thinly veiled skeptical and nearly slacker-accusatory hand-grenades at current and future generations esteemed one.

    There are plenty of young individuals squarely planted today that survived the disservice the boomers and their children selfishly scattered about the world so I would like to think “they” are up for the task.

    With any luck they will not be nearly as selfish nor skeptical as our own generation, and hopefully not so easily propagandized or jingoistic as their great grandparents generation.

    Who knows? But if we are lucky they might even have historically opportunity on their side to do some significant surgery on the Man so that their grandchildren might have the opportunity to dismantle every fucking War monument on the planet and pile them up somewhere then symbolically scatter the bits and pieces of the last dismantled nuclear weapon on the pile as a reminder to just what a bunch of loose screws and loons their forefathers were.

    Then again we could be really fucked irregardless of “them” and their future efforts or lack there of…

    Either way there is no time like the present to do more,more wisely than before, and enjoy the last few decades of the ride.

    It also doesn’t hurt to talk to them little fuckers when the opportunity presents itself and better yet instigate it on their own terms.

    In the end they really aren’t all that different than you no mater who you are, even if you really are a curmudgeon, which I sincerely doubt.

    1. SHG Post author

      I will stop worrying about them when they stop bumping into me on the street because they’re looking at their iToys instead of where they’re going. They won’t dismantle anything. That would take effort.

      And don’t doubt me.

      1. John Barleycorn

        I will stop “doubting” when you strap a GoPro camera to your skull for the commute to the office.

        I do hope you engage those that bump into you with an extra ordinary pointed and sharp humor underneath that deep dark furrowed brow.

        You do have some rather gnarled eyebrows. I would assume you training and experience has refined their use?

        1. SHG Post author

          My son borrowed the GoPro and won’t give it back. Well, it’s actually his, and I borrowed it from him, but same difference.

          And yes, I am a master of gnarled eyebrows. I have them down to a science.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Excellent.

            FYI. They don’t need no stinking wrist watches.

            Get over it.

            May “their” apps fail them in style one day only to “force” them to juggle the brewing fallacies.

            Harnessing “effort” is the Mother of Invention and do pass on the wonders of Joe’s or your own Garage.

  6. KP

    Well, I think the interwebs spread cynicism far better than newspapers ever did, and hopefully the young won’t be so keen to follow some stupid old men in Govt off to a war somewhere… (not that the old men ever lead from the front!)

    Knowing how the Govt spies every communication, has cameras in the streets and is researching how to read thoughts should be enough for any young person to hold a distrust of anything a Govt says. It would be lovely if the younger generation merely said “We don’t want to fight your war in a foreign land, we haven’t been invaded.”

    1. SHG Post author

      And so the few Jews, Gays, Gypsies, Catholics who survived would still be in concentrations camps. But you would be safe.

      1. Nathaniel

        For a while. Conquerors never stop and say, “This is enough.”

        I wonder who that person in the lower right hand of the picture of the amphibious landing was, and why the soldier in the middle was looking back.

        Those soldiers made a tremendous difference in the world. Their generation had its fair share of liars, thieves, thugs, rapists, and murderers, but the entire country mobilized to defeat two modern superpowers oceans apart through little more than throwing metal and men at the problem in genius ways. And those men listened and did it. Incredible.

        1. SHG Post author

          There’s an ambivalence in your comment that confuses me. I assume you included the sentence, “[t]heir generation had its fair share of liars, thieves, thugs, rapists,” to show that despite their imperfections, they still managed to win the war. But then, was there any question that they weren’t perfect? Why would it be worthwhile to point out the obvious?

          One of the child’s responses to a point that the child feels diminishes him is that others have flaws too, as if the flaws of others somehow negates the child’s own flaws. Flaws are not mutually exclusive, and this sort of argument reveals the emptiness of the child’s intellectual understanding. I may be ugly, but that doesn’t make you less ugly.

          On the other hand, I may be ugly, but I stood up when needed to risk my own life and convenience for the benefit of others. If a child can’t say he would do the same, then he’s just ugly, without the redeeming virtue of selflessness.

          1. Nathaniel

            I didn’t mean to tear down the men who fought and the women who sacrificed for the US to win World War II. I meant to say that in spite of having the same people of low character that plague every generation of every civilization, I think the US achieved something greater than any other people at any other point in recorded history. I’m sorry I didn’t write it there, but I’ll write it here.

            The US went to Europe as true liberators. It didn’t keep any territory (with the exception of garrisons) and it helped out a nation whose military had burned down our White House. There was a disgusting amount of sympathy and support for Nazi Germany in the US, but American men, some of whom unsuitable or almost unwilling to serve, went to Europe and won. It’s awesome to me that they could do it. At this point our military service members are several generations removed from the men and women who did it, and all we have to go on for what motivated them is second- or third-hand information.

            My original intent was to express awe at what the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines did in spite of having such a large pool of people we would consider undesirable today. That with technology that we would lament and challenges that the US hasn’t had to face before or since.

            For the record, I have been called a handsome man. I suspect that will last until my hairline goes from receding to receded, but then maybe I can change the definition of handsome to suit my own needs. Hopefully my writing will improve by then.

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